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The Frontier School Board heard recommendations Tuesday night that it add 26-plus teaching positions next year.

The recommendations were part of a budget workshop at Big Tree Elementary School as the board prepared its 2000-2001 spending plan.

The cost of the 26.95 new positions is estimated at $943,250, but Superintendent Gary R. Cooper said he hopes the district can keep its tax rate increase to less than the 3.3 percent annual rise in the cost of living index.

"We're going to look at cutting things as well as adding things," Cooper said. "Our tax increase in this budget, our goal, is to have it at 2 percent or below."

Fifteen of the proposed additions would go to the district's four elementary schools, with 5.45 at Frontier Middle School, 4.5 at Frontier High School and two "teachers on special assignment" serving in staff development/curriculum development at the districtwide level.

Most of the middle school jobs are intended to cut average class sizes from 30 to 26 in core subjects such as math, science, social studies and English, while the high school additions would be expected to cut study halls by increasing students' credits from 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 per year.

Six special-education jobs are proposed for the elementary schools, in part because of the district's plans for an inclusion program next fall. Cooper said about 94 students who had been in separate district special-education classrooms are scheduled to be mainstreamed into regular elementary school classrooms.

"Normally you'd have 15 kids that are in a special-education class," Cooper said. "So instead of one teacher there, you'll need two that go in and out of those classes helping those kids. That's why you need additional staff."

Cooper said state law that students need to be educated in the "least restrictive environment" mandates the change, and that it's made more pressing by the state's requirement that special-education students take the same assessment tests other students take.

Four additional reading teachers are also proposed for the elementary schools.

Paul M. Connolly, the assistant superintendent for personnel, said the job descriptions for the two special-assignment positions would be fine-tuned in time for the March 6 board meeting. He hopes to be able to post the job openings, pending board approval and the voters' giving the OK to the budget in May.

The board heard mixed news in other budget reports. Finance Director Richard A. Binner said health insurance costs are expected to increase by about 15 percent, costing the district an estimated $429,000.

At the same time, the district has completed two years of payments toward BOCES construction projects at $750,000 a year, so even with a projected increase of $158,000 in special-education costs, its overall BOCES costs are reduced.

With about 42 percent of the proposed budget presented, Binner said the budget showed a spending increase of less than 1 percent.

That includes $2.1 million for capital improvements, but not any staff additions.

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